National

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera mum on how Saga chopper crash might affect plan to deploy Osprey at civilian airport

Kyodo

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Sunday it is too early to say whether last week’s crash of a Japanese military helicopter in a residential area of Saga will affect the government’s plan to base Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft in the prefecture.

“Under the current circumstances, I cannot comment on the matter,” Onodera told reporters after he visited a government office to apologize for the incident last Monday.

Two Ground Self-Defense Force members died when the AH-64D attack helicopter crashed into a house in Kanzaki, injuring one person on the ground.

In the meeting with Saga Gov. Yoshinori Yamaguchi, Onodera vowed to take every possible measure to ensure safe operation of SDF aircraft and determine the cause of the incident.

A day afterward, a civic group of labor union members in Saga submitted a request to the Defense Ministry to have the Osprey deployment plan scrapped.

The government has been in talks with local officials and others concerned about basing the controversial aircraft at Saga Airport, which would effectively militarize the commercial facility.

Yamaguchi said at the start of the meeting “(The SDF) needs to make absolutely sure that they do not cause trouble for civilians.”

He told reporters after the meeting he will review results of the government’s probe into the incident and measures to prevent incidents involving SDF aircraft before moving forward in talks on the Osprey deployment to the prefecture.

Onodera met with residents affected by the crash and the local mayor the previous day to apologize in person.